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Isaiah 43.16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3.4b-14; John 12.1-8

Explore & respond

Ways of engaging different ages, spiritual styles and learning preferences

Adult & All Age

Sermon ideas

Ideas for sermon preparation on John 12.1-8

See also  PostScript - Comments, prayers, questions and discussion on the week's news.

  •   On the journey towards Jerusalem, Jesus pauses for a meal in Bethany that John, usually minimalist in his writing, presents as a sacred moment full of stimulation to the senses. Martha is serving, her brother Lazarus is present, and their sister Mary engages with Jesus very publicly, showing her devotion by her action and her costly worship. She and Martha have equal reason to be grateful for the raising of Lazarus, and they show their gratitude in worship and action respectively. To which are we most drawn? Why? Assuming there is a place for both in our lives, how does that work out in practice?
  •   Jesus sees in Mary’s action something prophetic. The fragrance is a reminder of burials in general and his coming death in particular. As Mary washes his feet, so he too will wash his disciples’ feet, a lesson of what love really looks and feels like. How do we show those around us – especially those outside the church – what love looks and feels like today? What prophetic actions might we be drawn towards?

  •   Judas has his own agenda which, according to John, is more about personal gain than concern for the poor. On this occasion, Jesus declines to get involved in a discussion about charitable giving, and commends Mary for her costly worship. But, despite many interpretations through the centuries, Jesus’ comments should not be taken as a manifesto regarding giving – or not – to the poor. Rather, it is about the true value and place of worship. We should be asking ourselves if our worship is the sort that fills the room – and the world – with its fragrance.

  •   Paul gives his testimony of what Jesus has done, what it means, and how it has changed him. Always extravagant in his contrasts, Paul ‘throws in the bin’ everything that gave him power and authority, counting all his training and achievement as just so much rubbish. In place of all that, he has the righteousness won for him by Jesus on the cross and in the resurrection. Christ has done all this. But he, Paul, still has more work to do to win the goal. What work do we still have to do?

You may also find this week's All-age conversation useful.

KEY:  icon indicates ways to connect faith with everyday life

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All-age conversation

 A way for leaders to help all ages explore the reading.

During the weeks of Lent, we have been building ourselves up – training ourselves – in preparation for Easter. We have probably also learnt a few things along the way. What is the difference between training and learning? Let’s think of some examples where we use each of the words. How might you complete this sentence: ‘I am training for…’? Or this one: ‘I am learning…’?

Or, what about the difference between ‘learning about our Christian faith’ and ‘practising our Christian faith’? We often use ‘practise’ to describe what we are doing when we are learning – e.g. when we practise the piano. But practise really means preparing to perform, to do – as in ‘putting it into practice’. Some things are said to be ‘common practice’ – meaning things we do regularly. Of course, we usually hope that the more we do something, the better it becomes!

So, what does it mean to ‘practise our Christian faith’ in the world? And what is it that our Lenten training is preparing us for, or to do? Today’s Gospel story involves both worship (by Mary) and action (serving/caring, by Martha). Can we have one without the other? How might our church help us better to train or prepare for worship and for action in the world? Have we got the balance right? Which do we need to put more time/effort/energy into right now? How did Jesus get the balance right?

You may also find this week's Sermon ideas useful.

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Active worship

Activities based on John 12.1-8

A simple worship activity for all ages

In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus prepares for what is to come in Jerusalem. Using all five senses, join him on the journey towards Jerusalem and the cross, beginning at the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. You will need these five items – in a larger congregation, use more than one set of items:

  1. A perfumed handkerchief.
  2. A circle (crown) made from a thorny branch.
  3. A dish or cup of wine vinegar (to taste).
  4. A small, rough, wooden cross.
  5. A hammer and a piece of wood with a nail embedded in it.

Play or perform quiet music throughout (e.g. ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’). Pass round the five items, leaving time for people to reflect and pray silently about each one. Invite people to smell the handkerchief; feel the crown of thorns; taste the vinegar; look at the cross; and to hit the nail with the hammer, listening to its jarring sound. At the end, say,

‘This is what Jesus endured for us:
may he show us how we can truly live
and worship our risen Lord.


Filled with fragrance

Pass round a variety of items that smell (e.g. a solid air freshener, a bar of soap, a jar of Vicks™, a sprig of a fragrant herb,  a jar of curry powder). Invite people to share with their neighbours, or in groups, the response evoked by each fragrance – if it helps, suggest using phrases such as: ‘it is like…’ or ‘it reminds me of…’. We can’t always find the right words to describe smells. We have the same problem when talking about God! What smells might enhance your sense of worship?


Faithful works

Numerous charities are doing ‘good works’. Is there anything different about the ones doing so because they are Christian? Invite people to use phones to research two charities – one Christian, one not – and to compare the two. Is the end result the same for the recipients of aid? Does our faith affect our choice of which charities to support?


Showing love

Give out small pieces of paper or card, and pens – and have a range of craft/card-making materials available. Ask: If Jesus came into your home, what would you do first? Put the kettle on? Phone a friend? Take a selfie with him?! Something else? Invite people to write or draw on their paper, or use the craft materials to create a card, that represents their choice. When complete, ask people to share with each other their choice – and to say why.


Spiritual styles abbreviations
W Word E Emotion S Symbol A Action
Read our Spiritual Styles articles 

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Drama: I may not know much about art …

A drama sketch pointing up the tension between 'beautiful' and 'useful'.

The gospel passages describe a conflict between what is expensive and beautiful (breaking the expensive jar of perfume over Jesus to prepare him for burial) and what is of more immediate practical 'use' (selling it for the poor instead).

There are many areas of modern church life where this beautiful/useful tension may exist: improvements to buildings, resource-intensive activities and, of course, music and the arts.

An example in the arts is set out in this piece, bringing William Shakespeare to a nameless modern church. It is exaggerated for effect.

Dennis/Denise (Chair of the church creative committee); Will Shakespeare

Dennis is snipping a large manuscript as Will enters.

Come in, Will. As you know, I've been put in charge of the church's creative committee. I know – I don't know much about art, but I know what the church  needs. Now I want to have a quiet word about your sketch –


Dennis (talking over Will's line)
… before I left, I asked you to write a little skit for our church family on the Bible's teaching on evil. Two minutes was maximum, funny, beginning with a quote from the Bible – and lots of practical applications we can take away on how to commit evil. Instead you've sent me one hundred pages called (looks at the thick manuscript before him, depressed) Macbeth.

Will (eagerly)
What did you think?

Frankly, I don't see how we can use it in our church. We need something short with a direct pay-off. I don't think anyone will have time to watch it. Even if we find actors willing to learn lines and rehearse it.

Did you read it or just look at it?

I got as far as page 20. But I picked up on the gist. Bill – no one's going to be interested in two hours of Scottish nobles warbling on about ambition and supernatural disorder. It just doesn't touch church life.

But it will resonate with the man hungry for promotion, the woman with a guilty secret, the entanglement of evil …

Dennis (speaking over Will's last phrase)
And there are witches – witches, Will! Bringing the occult into the church. You should know better. And unsavoury language. Why can't the porter just open the door without letting loose a string of profanities? Fortunately I didn't understand most of it but my son who does English GCSE giggled and I know that's a bad sign. Then your practice of using boys to play women goes right against our child protection policy. Kissed by men! It's not NQWWW – (before Will asks) – Not Quite What We Want.

The play is jinxed! (turning away)

Dennis (compassionately)
Will, let me give you a vision for your future in the Church. Creative activities are all right for those taken that way. But a man of your intelligence and communication skills should study to be a preacher, for the business of saving souls and building disciples.

Will (Pause. Picking up the play and looking at it)
It's beautiful.

But it's not useful.

I'll take my play outside the church. Where people appreciate it.

Outside the church? Unbelievers? Who'll go and see Macbeth?

Jesus commends a woman for doing something beautiful for him. Others say the money could be better spent. I see which side you take. (leaves)

Dennis (sighs)
Artists. Let's hope Beethoven's made progress on those new songs and Leonardo on the Sunday School colouring sheets. (To audience) I may not know much about art, but I know what the church needs.

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Using today's psalm

Psalm 126

These verses sound as though they recall real events, sung by real people in thanksgiving for something God has done for them.

So many of the psalms we sing were once community songs, sung in celebration of shared events, and this flags up a way for us to encounter the power and mercy of God just as they had done. It may not seem quite in the Lenten spirit of restraint, but as we approach Easter we are approaching the greatest thing God has done for us – and we should sing it out!

Singing together

How to use the psalms in worship.


Response line: The Lord has done great things for us.

The Lord        
2 index fingers point upwards.

has done       
Both hands fingers extended thumb uppermost; right hand makes ‘sawing’ motion across top of left.

great things  
Both hands thumbs up.

for us.           
Palm uppermost, make circle out from body and back.


Hymns and songs based on Psalm 126 include:

‘The Lord has done great things’ (MCW1, and a great worship song in PS1)

‘When the Lord brought us back’ (TS1)

‘When the Lord restored’ (MCW1)

‘The Lord restored us’ (PRA)

‘What marvels the Lord worked’ (NEH).

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  • What do you see here: extravagance, showing off, or something else?
  • How extravagant is the worship in your church?
  • How do you express your devotion to Christ?

Children & Young People

Explore & respond with children

Do, Make, Pray and Sing activities based on John 12.1-8

Choose from these ideas to help the children make connections between the Bible reading and their lives


Team relay                         5 mins E

Play a game to highlight the importance of balancing faith and life

You will need: fruit, e.g. satsumas, at least two per child, two containers.

  • Divide the group into two teams. Give both teams a supply of fruit (without telling them, ensure that one team has more than the other), and place a container at the opposite end of where each team is gathered.
  • Both teams run relays to put one piece of fruit at a time into their container.
  • When both teams have completed the task, compare the contents of their containers. They will notice that the result is unbalanced. Explain that one team’s fruit represent faith and the other team’s fruit represent life. If you give too much to one, the other will suffer. Distribute the fruit fairly and enjoy eating it together.



Social action project         10 minsE A

Assemble care packages for those in need

You will need: plastic bags; EITHER toiletries for a homeless person, e.g. soap, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, tissues, snacks, OR baby essentials and small gifts for a family with a new baby; tags, paper, pens, pencils, crayons.

  • Invite the children to put together care packages either for homeless people in the community/a local shelter, or new young families at church/a local women’s refuge.
  • Tie on a tag and write a message from your church.
  • The children could draw pictures or write letters to go in the bags (don’t include any personal details).
  • Arrange to deliver the care packages. If possible, invite some of the children to accompany you.

Treasure pot                       10 minsS

A container for valuable things

You will need: air-drying clay/play dough, paint and paintbrushes, beads, sequins, etc.

  • Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with very valuable oil. Invite each child to shape a special pot to store their precious things in, e.g. notes from friends, toys, money.
  • They can personalise their pots with paint and decorations. Leave them to dry.

Enter our other competitions.



Balancing the scales          5 minsW S

Think about a balanced relationship with God

You will need: traditional weighing scales, a set of imperial and metric weights.

  • Practise this exercise beforehand. Follow the script below (actions are in italics).
  • We are so busy nowadays. Place a 1lb weight on the scales. Our lives are pretty full. Place an 8oz weight on the same side. Jesus doesn’t often get much of a look-in. Place a 4oz weight on the same side. Except sometimes on Sundays. Place a 500g weight in the bowl on the other side. But what if it was different? What if every day we thought about him, talked to him, spent time with him? Place a 200g weight on this side. What would our minds and hearts be like if we spent more time with Jesus? Place a 100g weight on the second side so the scales balance.
  • Talk about how this reflection made everyone feel.
  • Close with a prayer: Dear Lord, please help us to remember that spending time with you is just as important as being busy. Show us ways to slow down and be with you more often. Amen.

Sensory prayer                  5 minsS

Think about Jesus using all five senses

You will need: an incense stick or oil burner containing an essential oil, a clay pot/holding cross, some bread, a picture of Jesus, gentle music, e.g. ‘Alabaster Box’ by Julie Meyer (see Listen on the Young People page). (Note: be aware of anyone who is coeliac or suffers from asthma.)

  • Lay out all the items on a rug or table as a focal point and play the music quietly.
  • Encourage the children to spend some time smelling, touching, tasting, looking, listening and thinking about Jesus.


More prayers are available via the Prayers page.


Spiritual styles abbreviations
W Word E Emotion S Symbol A Action
Read our Spiritual Styles articles
     Connect faith with everyday life



Key to abbreviations for hymn book titles

Under 5s:
Jesus, Jesus, here I am (JU, KS)
When I needed a neighbour

Under 12s

Open the Eyes of my Heart, Paul Baloche
Brother, let me be your servant (HON, SoF)

To be in your presence, Noel Richards
God of Justice (We Must Go), Tim Hughes

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